More sunsets over Warsaw

All images by Natalia Osiatynska, taken between July 21, 2014, and February 17, 2015, using the (improbably modest) Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT fitted with the (formidable) 200mm/f2.8 L-series lens (images 1-14). Last image shot with the Leica M (Typ 240) and Elmarit 90/2.8.

For earlier work in this series and the... artist’s statement, see the post Evenings in Warsaw.

A poem for my father

What do you give someone who’s given you just about everything? One way is to go with a gift of acknowledgment, thoughtfulness or time. Thus, for my father’s seventieth birthday I decided to make him a present of one of his favorite poems—in my English translation. The poem is a philosophical, metaphoric, cathartic one about dying, written by Polish poet Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz just days before his own death in February, 1980. Now some might find this a somber, even morbid theme, but my dad is fearless and sentimental and totally impertinent, so ushering in his 70’s with a lyric about passing away might actually be pretty spot-on. Here is the translation—and, next to it, the original with all its quietly heart-wrenching wonder.

URANIA
by Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz

Urania, pine tree, sister—I give you your name
For the way your trunk’s hand points at the sky
The wind blowing through your black mane
Quiets from under. Sister, I am calling you

As once did seers in mistletoe crowns
To stand guard at the door to my home
And watch over the flower, fruit, honey bee
And the hearts that fade here in hiding.

Urania, muse of the final day
Goddess of the end, goddess of permanence
Goddess of destruction and all that is wrong
Keep watch over home and over nothingness.

Take me in your manes, you who are crazed
Rip from me arms that will never regrow
Bury me, save me, give me your crown,
Let me, too, be Urania, nothingness and pine.

URANIA
Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz

Uranio, siostro, sosno – tak ciebie nazywam
Bo palcem pnia swojego ukazujesz niebo
Wiatr co się w twojej czarnej grzywie zrywa
Zacicha dołem. Siostro, wzywam ciebie

Jak niegdyś wróże w koronach z jemioły
Abyś wytrwała w progu mego domu
I strzegła kwiatu, owocu i pszczoły
I serc co tutaj gasną po kryjomu.

Uranio, muzo dnia ostatecznego
Bogini końca, bogini trwałości
Zniszczeń bogini i wszystkiego złego
Stójże na straży domu i nicości.

Weźmij mnie w swoje grzywy, ty szalona
Wyszarp mi ręce co już nie wyrosną
Pogrzeb mnie, ratuj, daj swoje korony,
Bym także był Uranią, nicością i sosną.

English translation by Natalia Osiatynska, 2015, dedicated to Wiktor Osiatyński (who is very much alive, in case anyone is wondering, and in fact helped with the final version of the translation).

Note: I web-searched extensively to find any existing English translations of Urania—and found only one, indeterminately attributed to a Philip Earl Steele and buried toward the bottom of this puzzling treatise on the picturesque Masovian town of Podkowa Leśna.

A poem by Yeats

Hopeful and defiant in equal measure, this gem of late Irish symbolism has been a favorite since I first read it in a subway car in New York city around 2003 (where it was displayed as part of the MTA’s inspiring “Poetry in Motion” campaign). Written by the 47-year-old William Butler Yeats in 1912, it was published four years later in the collection Responsibilities and Other Poems. Here it is—in the original and in my Polish translation.

A COAT
W.B. Yeats

I made my song a coat     
Covered with embroideries     
Out of old mythologies     
From heel to throat;     
But the fools caught it,
Wore it in the world’s eyes     
As though they’d wrought it.     
Song, let them take it     
For there’s more enterprise     
In walking naked.

PŁASZCZ
W.B. Yeats

Z mojej pieśni
Płaszcz zrobiłem
Cały pokryty haftami
Starymi mitologiami
Od pięty po szyję;
Ale głupcy go zdobyli,
Przed światem nosili,
Jakby sami uszyli.
Pieśni, niech Cię mają tako,
Najintratniej
Chodzić nago.

Polish translation by Natalia Osiatynska, 2007.

Dream speech word salad memories

Seemingly random sequences of words can seem humorous or poetic. Often, of course, they are not random at all, but merely products of language error by non-native speakers, as in this photo taken by the author in Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, in 2009. Though the image essentially documents bad English grammar on a storefront—it also embodies the spirit of the author’s experience of language-based dreams.

Seemingly random sequences of words can seem humorous or poetic. Often, of course, they are not random at all, but merely products of language error by non-native speakers, as in this photo taken by the author in Fujiyoshida-shi, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan, in 2009. Though the image essentially documents bad English grammar on a storefront—it also embodies the spirit of the author’s experience of language-based dreams.

Keep your letter hands numb.

Oferując wytrwałe kotły monopobielu zieleni.

My guy is more shemuai in the shemshai sen sense.

Wielki niewiadom kapitan jabłek.

About one decade ago I noticed an intriguing and satisfying occurrence that sometimes presented as I was waking from sleep: a deliberate and coherent string of words and a sense of their tremendous significance. I don’t mean words spoken or heard in the context of a dream. Rather, these words were the dream. Very rarely, I would manage to remember this snippet of language long enough to be able to write it down—and it was only after the memory itself was gone (minutes, hours, years later) that I could study the proof of the memory, scrawled by my confused, sleepy hand, and unequivocally confirm that the words had not been coherent at all. Just synapses firing on autopilot, running their maintenance software.

I began to suspect that this curious edge-of-consciousness phenomenon was in fact a near-daily dose of overwhelming intellectual pleasure, almost instantly forgotten. The barriers to documenting my experience were of course largely environmental—no pen and paper next to the bed, no time to study the subconscious before the morning rush. But a key barrier was also built into the experience itself: as these linguistic dream sequences unfolded, they seemed clear and ubiquitous. What’s the point of writing down something that seems important, vivid and as plain as day?

Lately I’ve become more diligent about keeping a pencil and pad by my bedside, and I’ve been able to collect enough material to attempt a preliminary analysis of these dreamed wordstrings I sometimes experience. I’ve noted that the syntactic operations are always in Polish or English, never in a mix of the two. The morphological phenomena mostly obey the lexical rules governing Polish and English word formation, but there are occasional surprises of mysterious structures with mystery etymologies.

I’ve also discovered that there is a psychiatric condition or symptom called schizophasia (less formally and more widely known as word salad), which describes a similar linguistic occurrence in the lucid mind. It is typically a symptom of mental disorders associated with manic and psychotic states or various aphasias. In dreams, however, it is a perfectly normal if somewhat rare sub-type of dreaming, and it is then simply referred to as dream speech.

Above are some of the dream speech examples I was able to record over the years. (There are more, but I’ve used bits of many of them as my online passwords, for the way they manage to combine both the desired randomness and that irresistible personalized sentimentality that usually gives most passwords away. And should you be alarmed that these password formants are recorded in writing—trust me, there’s not a pair of eyes but my own that is going to figure out just what it was I scratched onto paper in my sleep on some random day.)

A final note: I realize the post title may seem a lot like an instance of word salad, too, but it’s really just a complex noun phrase denoting with dry precision the subject of the post.

Oishii

Increasingly frequent and, with so much practice, increasingly easy—our homemade washoku dinners have also become a kind of comfort food, no longer exotic and unexpected but rather familiar, nourishing and typical of home.

Oh, and oishii means delicious.

All photos by Natalia Osiatynska, taken in September, October and November, 2014, in the author’s Warsaw home.